EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The NFL game between the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday will be played despite transportation and power issues and growing concerns for weary and heartbroken residents displaced and devastated by Superstorm Sandy.
Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke on Friday and Christie assured him that game would not divert any major resources from relief efforts.
Speaking at news conference in Brick at the opening of a FEMA office, Christie said only a few state troopers are assigned to the game and it was really a decision for the NFL to make.
”If they are ready, absent any change in circumstances, that we should go ahead with the game on Sunday,” Christie said, adding that during a tour of storm damage in nearby Moonachie, no one asked him to postpone the game and a couple of Giants fans urged him not to do that.
There have been 53 deaths associated with the storm in New York and New Jersey and more than 2 million people were still without power on Friday. There have been long lines to purchase gas throughout New Jersey and New York and power is still being restored. There will be no rail service to MetLife Stadium, the Giants said.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin always felt the game would take place, and believes his team will be ready to lift the spirits of the people of New Jersey and New York.
”I think the mission will be quite clear,” Coughlin said. ”Trying to provide a few hours of enjoyment for so many that have been devastated. I think they’ll do a good job of that.”
The Steelers changed travel plans because the hotel they booked in New Jersey did not have power. The team will fly in Sunday morning and leave after the game.
Coughlin said the Steelers’ decision not to stay in a hotel overnight was ”noble” because it will give space to those who lost their dwellings.
”When you look at it, it’s a minor inconvenience considering what those people in New York and New Jersey went through,” Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks said Friday. ”You have seven million people without electricity, and a football game pales in comparison to that. You just hope you can do your best to take their minds off such a travesty for a couple of hours by playing some football.”
Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel said the one-day trip is nothing compared to what those hit by the storm are handling.
”Not having power to go to and from work, they’re really fighting through it, so this is minor compared to what they’re going through,” Keisel said.
The Giants urged fans attending the game car pool and arrive early for the 4:25 EST game. There will be no train service to MetLife Stadium, which normally brings some 9,000 fans to the stadium.
Free parking and shuttle service will be provided from two nearby locations.
Once at the stadium, fans can donate non-perishable food items, which will be donated to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.
The Giants (6-2) are placing a high priority on this game, and it goes beyond football.
The team was given its marching orders Friday by Gen Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff.
A long-time Giants fans and New Jersey resident, Odierno toured areas in both states hit by the storm, visited with some of the 10,000 servicemen in the area, then watched practiced. He relayed his experience to the players.
”Today I saw firsthand the destruction in New York City, and along the shore lines of New Jersey,” Odierno said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. ”I witnessed the Army, city and state officials, and organizations from across the nation come together. Both New York City and New Jersey will look to their team, the NY Giants, for inspiration. I told the team today that playing the game to the best of their abilities will show fans their toughness, their strength and their resiliency at a time when they need it the most.”
Goodell will be at MetLife Stadium briefly Sunday afternoon to meet with first responders, then will fly to Atlanta for a previously scheduled fan forum.
The Giants have adjusted their football schedule since the storm struck Sunday, but many players have had to live without power at home.
Punter Steve Weatherford, wife Laura and their three children, including a newborn, stayed at the home of placekicker Lawrence Tynes and his family. Guard Kevin Boothe, his wife Rosalie and their two young children did not lose power in their home and hosted tight end Martellus Bennett and his wife, Siggi.
”I think everybody just kind of texted one another to make sure everyone was OK,” Boothe said. ”We were able to help Martellus and his wife out last night. So that’s why we’re here, that’s why we’re teammates. It was great.
”’My son (2-year-old Dante) loves him,” Boothe said. ”I think he thought Martellus was there solely to play with him, so they had a great time. They were painting and doing a whole bunch of other things.”
Giants middle linebacker Mark Herzlich understands some of the desperation felt by those affected by the storm. His life was thrown into turmoil roughly three years ago when he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. He missed the 2009 college season.
”I think it in some ways it does because you have to start all over,” Herzlich said comparing the storm and his illness. ”You’ve basically put your life on hold. You take everything, and it stops in its track. You say, ‘Now where am I going to go from here?’
”You lose your house, you lose everything that you’ve ever had, you have to put it in the tank and say, ”That’s it. That’s my life,” or you can say, ”where do I go from here. How do I fight back?,” Herzlich said. ”How do I regain my possessions? How do I rebuild my life?” I think that’s the same thing that cancer patients and cancer survivors have to do. If they get a bad diagnosis, are they going to let it destroy them and defeat them or are they going to take one foot and put it in front of the other and fight back.”
Veteran defensive tackle Chris Canty, who has been involved in charitable work in New York City, believes the people in the area are resilient.
”Just understanding, when we take the field on Sunday, hey, we represent those folks,” Canty said. ”That was the (general’s) message. It was a timely message and it was an important message.”
Canty said playing for those affected by the storm is an honor and a privilege.
”To represent the people of a great city and two great states, all our fans, especially with all the loss, all the damage and destruction, just to be able to provide a sense of normalcy, even for a couple of hours. They can know their football team is going to play hard and it’s going to be tough, and fight. I think that is important. It’s important for our football team to understand.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner, Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh and Associated Press Writer Angela Della Santi in Brick, N.J. contributed to this story.
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